When he was young, Jim Hale told a friend he was going to move to Key West and become "the pigeon king." His friend, a budding comedian, thought that was an excellent joke. But Hale was serious.
He did move to the Keys, 30 years ago, and he started keeping and breeding racing pigeons. He's been successful with that, and he's got an unexpected sideline: rescuing the racing pigeons that wind up in the Keys after they're blown off course from Cuba.
Hale doesn't know exactly what brought the Cuban birds to his loft — "they don't come with a story," he says — but they often show up in the spring, when birds of prey are migrating.
"If you were on the plains of Africa and a tribe of lions started chasing you, the last thing you're going to worry about is where home is," he says. "You're just going wherever you need to go to get away."
Many of the Cuban birds Hale rescues return south when he releases them. But there's one white pigeon who won't leave him no matter how many times he releases her.
He released her as part of a basket of white pigeons during the parade celebrating Diana Nyad's swim across the Florida Straits, the same route this bird followed.
"That one's like a pet. She won't leave me. I don't want to force her," Hale says. "I let her do what she wants to do. A lot of the Cuban birds that don't want to go back, I give to guys that are from Cuba that have birds here. That one, I won't. I've kept her just because she's special to me."
Listen to Jim Hale tell the story of his life with pigeons: